EFHR victory in the fight against hate speech
On May 19, 2016, the District Court in Panevezys adjudicated in a criminal case in which Lithuanian citizen V. S. was found guilty of incitement to hatred on the website lrytas.lt. Currently, the convicted man is unemployed, divorced, has secondary education and lives in Panevezys. V. S. was indicted for writing seven comments inciting to hatred and physical violence.
The District Court in Panevezys decided that the comments posted on the website by V. S. publicly humiliate and defame individuals of Russian origin, incite to hatred and discrimination against Russians, by describing them as ‘the most vile nation’, fascists, and using other offensive expressions. The man also incited hatred by writing that Russians should be dealt with without regret (‘destroying Russian monkeys without regret’). However, the man who called the Russians ‘victims of abortion’ pleaded not guilty. The convicted believes that in this way he expressed his opinion, and could not recall the precise content of the comments he made. Based on the actual circumstances, V. S. claimed that his comments were not directed at the Russians. By doing so, he only expressed his own view on the article, and the blog ‘Lrytas’ was the primary recipient, which in the first place should have decided on the appropriateness of the comments.
Nevertheless, the Court decided that the man’s testimony was an attempt to avoid criminal liability. Despite the fact that the accused pointed out that in the comments he sought to present his opinion, the Court found that the right to freely express one’s views in the present case breached art. 25 paragraph 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania. The Court held that V. S. in his comments had used humiliating expressions generically and offensively judging the Russians. Moreover, his opinion expressed publicly aimed to slander and mock certain social group.
After investigating the case and considering the account of V. S., the Court convicted and sentenced him to imprisonment of up to 2 years with 70 hours of unpaid public service within eight months after the final judgement.
Lithuanian internet activity is not regularly monitored, and the majority of those commenting who have possibly committed the offense remains unpunished. Negative comments are usually made to insult the minorities ie. the Poles, Russians, Jews and members of the LGBT community. An example of the positive practice of supporting the fight against hate speech on the Internet, is the project ‘Interneto higiena’ prepared by ’15min.lt’. The campaign launched in May, in which commentators are invited to express their views with giving their real names (after registration), is already bringing positive results – the number of negative and discriminatory expressions has considerably decreased. EFHR believes in the possibility of having a polite discussion and is pleased with the initiative ’15min.lt. aimed at raising awareness.
In 2016 EFHR submitted to the prosecutor’s office 17 reports of hate speech. Since the creation of the foundation there were 563 such reports, of which 46 cases were won. More information concerning hate speech can be found here.
EFHR would like to thank everyone reporting potential cases in breach of the law. Without your participation we would be unable to fight against hate speech. We are encouraging to continue cooperating with us.